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Cochran v. Meacham

Supreme Court of Arizona

June 4, 1945

MARTA COCHRAN, personal representative of the Estate of Ewell Thomas Cochran, deceased, Appellant,
v.
JOEL E. MEACHAM, Appellee

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of the County of Maricopa. Dudley W. Windes, Judge.

Judgment reversed and remanded with directions.

Mr. V. L. Hash, for Appellant.

Mr. Theodore G. McKesson, for Appellee.

Stanford, C. J. LaPrade and Morgan, J. J., concur.

OPINION

Stanford, C. J.

Page 303

[63 Ariz. 35] Plaintiff, as the surviving wife, brought her action in the superior court for the wrongful death of her husband, under the provisions of chapter 31, "Death by Wrongful Act," Arizona Code 1939. She alleged that her husband was killed about the 14th day of October, 1942, when, in the act of crossing a street in Phoenix, he was struck by an automobile negligently operated by the defendant. The usual allegations are set forth in the complaint which are necessary to authorize the widow to sue, to-wit: That the deceased left no estate or assets of any kind other than the cause of action which arose by reason of his wrongful death.

The defendant filed answer and motion to dismiss, setting out a plea in bar and release based upon the following facts: That plaintiff had been appointed administratrix of the estate of the deceased, under the provisions of Sec. 38-1901, Arizona Code, which provides for a summary disposition of assets under $ 300; [63 Ariz. 36] that in such matter she had procured an order from the superior court authorizing her to settle the claim for wrongful death of her husband for $ 250; that pursuant to such order she, as such administratrix, had received in settlement of all claims for the death of her husband the sum of $ 250, and had given release therefor. In her affidavit for appointment, under the provisions of Sec. 38-1901, supra, plaintiff alleged that the property of the deceased is personal property, not to exceed the value of $ 300, and constitutes a doubtful claim for wrongful death having only a nuisance value. Upon the hearing of this motion to dismiss and plea in bar, the court entered judgment for the defendant and against the plaintiff. From this judgment appeal was taken by plaintiff who appears here as appellant, and the defendant as appellee.

The sole question for our determination is the validity and effect of the release which plaintiff executed by virtue of the proceedings taken under Sec. 38-1901, supra. If the court had authority under the provisions of that section to authorize plaintiff to make the settlement, then the release given by her if approved by the court constitutes a bar to her present action. If, on the other hand, the court was without jurisdiction to authorize a settlement under the provisions of that section, her release would be nugatory and of no effect whatsoever.

Section 38-1901, supra, provides merely for the summary disposition of assets which do not exceed the sum of $ 300. We quote from the statute:

"The personal effects of a deceased person, minor or incompetent person, may be settled and distributed without procuring letters of administration, or of guardianship, under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the superior court where the value of the estate does not exceed the sum of three hundred dollars ($ 300) . . . ."

[63 Ariz. 37] It will be observed that under the provisions of this section the court has no power to grant letters of administration to the applicant. The person so appointed is merely an agent for the purpose of distributing personal effects. No bond or letters of administration are required, merely an affidavit that the person whose estate is sought to be administered is dead and that the estate consists of personal property or effects of the valuation of less than $ 300. No fee is charged. The purpose of the statute is evident. It was enacted to save costs and expense when the decedent left only small items of personal property. The power of the court and the rights of the agent are limited by the purposes of the statute.

A claim for death by wrongful act is not a personal effect of the deceased person. The action ...


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